For centuries now, the theater has been a form of artistic expression of ideas. From toxic relationships to war to civil rights, nothing has been off-topic or out of bounds to bring up in the context of a theatrical production. While the topic of segregation and racial justice has been on stage, it wasn’t until the last five years or so that the segregation of the crowd became an issue.
Starting on Broadway, these nights have been designed to give the cast an all-black audience and have little purpose beyond political grandstanding. Yet, the Theatre Royal Stratford East located in east London, has decided that this leftist idea is exactly what the UK needed. They opted to have a “Black Out” during the July 5th performance of Tambo & Bones on July 5th.
As the theater’s webpage explained “While this performance has been arranged for Black audience members specifically, no one is excluded from attending. A Black Out night is the purposeful creation of an environment in which an all-black-identifying audience can experience and discuss an event in the performing arts, film, and cultural spaces – free from the white gaze.” Translation- We can’t tell you to stay home whitey, but your kind isn’t welcome here.
Britain’s first black police and crime commissioner (PCC) Festus Akinbusoye does not believe in or support this kind of discrimination and is calling for the event to be canceled.
“Society is richer and stronger when an understanding of each other’s cultures and stories are shared and heard. However, I believe the Black Out concept runs contrary to this education and enrichment ethos. As a lover of theatre performances – Hamilton being a recent one I attended – it was a great experience being able to share this with people of all races and cultures. Despite its majority black or visibly ethnic minority cast, I would not have watched it if it had been a ‘Black Out’ performance.”
Being called out by the PCC should change their tone on the issue, but so far, the theater and production company have remained steadfast in their commitment to the idea. The British version’s director Matthew Xia believes these sessions need to be held. He believes that given the nuances of this play and the racial overtones of the production nights like these are a must-have. Given his recollection of and the history of black theater nights, they have been a mixed bag for theaters that hold them.
The theater themselves consider these discriminatory nights to be a form of healing. Granted, the UK doesn’t have the history with the African slaves that the US has had, so for them to host these nights makes even less sense than they do here in the US. Given the satirical and racial exploration that the play has in it, these kinds of nights are even more detrimental to their causes and the public at large.
Nights like these are not only in bad taste, but they also deprive the audience of the same uncomfortable things they need to do. If you want equality, you need to make things equal. Society (here and in the UK) has already ruled that separate but equal nights are nothing but more discrimination and don’t mend any fences.
Can you imagine if a play did a “White Out” night where blacks were allowed but not welcomed, or if they said, “free of glaring black eyes”? Not only would the mainstream media implode, but the fabric of society would be set back 200 years. It not only wouldn’t go over well but the performance would potentially be picketed by more people than attended.
Racism cannot stand, and despite the beliefs of the ignorant, racism can happen in any direction.